Christmas weekend was long and lovely. And though I may not have a Christmas tree, I have the very good fortune of living right next to the largest Christmas tree in Kyoto. Every year Doshisha University, which hosts the “Center for the Study of Christian Culture”, decorates a positively huge tree in the center of their main campus. It stands a glorious four stories high with beautiful lights that cheer me along as I bike homeward on these blustery winter nights.
Not to be outdone, one of my neighbors has put up their own little version of a front yard tree, though such personal displays are rare here, since Japan is a Buddhist country and Christians comprise a minority 2% of the population. Still the most commercial trappings of Christmas have been imported and broadly disseminated. I suppose that’s the way of the world these days: so many things are converted to just another gimmick to keep the cash-flow flowing. All the stores here have Santa Claus displays to encourage the shopper’s spending. And Christmas Cake, a peculiarly Japanese confection of yellow cake, whipped cream and strawberries decorated with tiny Santa Claus figurines, has been sold and consumed all over Japan this week. Some of the restaurants advertise Reindeer steaks for Christmas Eve dinner, which generally causes Westerners here to moan, “Oh no! you don’t understand! Santa needs his reindeer alive tonight.” But such is the skewing of Christmas symbols in a Buddhist country, you just sort of shake your head and smile wryly.
For myself and my friends, we have our own traditions of life abroad. This weekend was the annual Women’s Network Christmas potluck. Last year I started a tradition of embroidering holiday napkins to add a festive touch and everyone gets to take theirs home as a holiday souvenir. I wish I could remember where I got the design. It was one of the many many freebies that I downloaded last year and I’m afraid I can no longer say where it came from. But the message is so true to the spirit of Christmas and I wish it to one and all — no matter which part of the world you live in or what silly things they do with images of Santa or reindeer — Let there be Peace on every corner of our Earth, tonight and throughout the coming year.